After a failed effort to offer free internet access (with strings attached) to people in India, Facebook has now launched Express Wi-Fi, a service that lets users log on to Wi-Fi networks hosted by local partners, for a nominal fee. And unlike Free Basics, this program grants access to all of the web – or at least, as much as the Indian government allows.
Following tests that began back in 2015, Express Wi-Fi is now live across nearly 700 hotspots in four Indian states of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya. Users can log on by purchasing physical and online vouchers that cost between Rs. 10-20 ($0.15 – $0.30) for 0.1GB a day, or Rs. 200-300 ($3.12 – $4.67) for 20GB for a month, from 500 brick-and-mortar stores in those states.
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India isn’t the first country where Facebook has rolled out Express Wi-Fi: it’s previously launched the service in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia. The company plans to connect another 20,000 hotspots across India in partnership with telecom giant Airtel.
That’s a big move for Facebook: the social network says it’s closing in on 2 billion users worldwide, and India, with its population of 1.3 billion, reportedly only has about 390 million people accessing the web at present. Clearly, it’s a huge target for the company, and this approach could see it bring many more people online and eventually help grow Facebook’s user base.